Walter G. Wasser

Closing the Life Expectancy Gap for Men

In Israel, men face a higher risk of dying at every age between birth and 75 compared to women. This growing gap in life expectancy is alarming. As an internal medicine and nephrology specialist, I see firsthand the impact of these health disparities on men’s lives. What’s behind this trend, and how can men improve their chances of a longer, healthier life?

The Case of Adam Alderson

Adam Alderson’s story is a stark reminder of the dangers of ignoring health issues. At 24, Adam experienced bowel discomfort, but he dismissed it as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Ten years later, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Adam’s reluctance to seek help early on reflects a broader issue: men often avoid addressing health concerns until it’s too late.

The Statistics

Men in Israel, similar to those in the UK, have a higher mortality rate from a wide range of causes, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and suicide. The average life expectancy for Israeli men is lower than that for women. Men have a greater risk of death at every age between birth and 75, from causes including obesity, workplace accidents, and heart attacks. Men have a higher mortality rate from cancer; a significant portion of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease are among men. Moreover, the rate of suicide among men is considerably higher than that among women.

Addressing the Issue

Recognizing the urgent need to address this issue, it’s essential to examine various factors: biological differences, low health literacy, and the chronic underfunding of medical services. Traditional masculine norms, which stigmatize seeking help, also play a significant role.

Efforts to dismantle these barriers are underway. Initiatives like Movember and local health campaigns are raising awareness and encouraging men to engage with health services. Campaigns that bring health discussions into comfortable, familiar settings – like barber shops and sports clubs – are proving effective.

Overcoming Barriers

The drivers of premature deaths among men include biological factors, low male health literacy, and the chronic underfunding of medical services. More state initiatives specifically targeted at men are needed to counter the stigma around seeking help due to traditional masculine norms. Increasing access to occupational health in employment settings would help address the problem of men being forced to choose between work obligations and seeing a doctor.

A major theme running through many discussions is men’s lack of engagement with medical services compared to women. The stigma around seeking help is a global phenomenon. Men skip routine check-ups far more often than women. There is a perception that it is unacceptable to ‘be vulnerable, look after themselves, and not be stoic’. Overcoming this attitude – a potentially lethal form of toxic masculinity – is an urgent matter. Encouraging men to see it as okay to discuss their health with their friends and colleagues is crucial.

The Way Forward

Experts emphasize the need for a holistic approach to men’s health, addressing race, class, and socioeconomic factors. This requires concerted government action and adequate funding. While systemic changes are crucial, men also need to take individual responsibility for their health.

The challenge of dismantling psychological barriers, often involving a tangle of anxieties related to cultural norms or sexuality, is no small task. In Israel, prostate cancer affects a significant number of men annually. Though certain ethnic groups have a higher relative risk, they are considerably less likely to have been tested for it. Mistrust of health services, barriers to access, and cultural references contribute to this issue.

Many in the sector are working to address this. Efforts to ‘go to where men are’ can be practical means of strengthening men’s relationship with the health services. Partnering with organizations to involve sports coaches in providing mental and physical health training for young men and creating spaces where men can feel free to discuss their concerns without any judgment or pressure are effective strategies.

A Call to Action

Adam Alderson’s journey from a misdiagnosis to a life-saving surgery underscores the importance of early intervention. Today, Adam advocates for men’s health, urging men to overcome the stigma and seek medical help when needed. His message is clear: “We only have one body, one chance. And it can suddenly be too late”.

A shift of this nature would require concerted government action, as well as money to finance it. But does the government have sufficient political will to enact such changes? Health services have been underfunded, and there are cuts to front-line services, a crisis in the recruitment of medical staff, and inadequate provision of social care and mental health services. Beyond pressuring your local representatives to prioritize the delivery of the services that you most need, what can you do?

Exploring Options

In early 2014, Adam Alderson woke up on a hospital bed to the sound of a radio. Since his diagnosis the previous December, he had returned to the UK for treatment. He had been told that his emergency surgery would take roughly 13 hours. But the cancer was much more widespread than anticipated. The procedure had been aborted. Adam was placed in palliative care and told that he had two years to live.

But he refused to accept that he would die – not so soon, and not like this. From a hospice, he started learning everything that he could about his condition. He made contact with specialists and discovered an online support group for patients and survivors. These conversations demystified his illness and gave him new strength.

It was through these channels that Adam learned of a radical procedure previously attempted on a rugby league player. Though the procedure was high-risk, Adam put himself forward for it. To his relief, a specialist agreed that it could work and a plan of action was put in place.

Now Or Never

What happened to Adam could happen to any of us. ‘We all think that we’re here forever and nothing’s going to go wrong – until it does,’ he says. ‘We, as men, need to stop being apathetic about our health. It’s an emotionally painful situation to go to the doctors and say, for example, “I’ve got something wrong with my testicle.” We might not like the thought of a doctor putting a finger up our arse or handling our balls – I get why we’d want to avoid that because it’s an embarrassing situation. But as someone who lost every bit of dignity when I went through my journey, trust me: it’s easier to have things looked at before they get to the stage where they got for me. You don’t want to end up having to go through something as horrific as that’.

These days, Adam is in the gym three times a week. He keeps himself mega fit. No longer a tree surgeon, he now works as a patient consultant for a research organization and shares his story at events. Finally engaging fully with his health saved his life but, for him, it was almost too late. Now he raises awareness about cancer and assists doctors in discovering new ways to help others.

Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, states that there is no single cause behind the disparity in life expectancy between men and women. It might be the result of anything from ‘differences in biology’ to ‘income, education, housing, and diet’ – or a combination of all of these factors. Men are far more likely than women to smoke and drink in excess. Faced with this uncertainty, we should take positive action to live healthily. But knowing what that truly means involves a conscious engagement with our health – and being man enough to accept that it’ll one day fail. We’re not impervious or invulnerable. And while the government ponders structural solutions to the problem, we need to take the initiative, find the strength to listen, and talk about our vulnerabilities. We only have one body, one chance at this. And it can suddenly be too late.


  • Yo Zushi, “The Gap in Life Expectancy Between Genders Is Getting Bigger. So, What’s Killing Men?” Men’s Health, 12 June 2024.
About the Author
The author is a specialist in nephrology and internal medicine and lives with his wife and family in Jerusalem.